A dinner-plate-sized tarantula drag an opossum it just killed


Researchers captured gruesome photos of the spiders' hunting prowess in the Peruvian Amazon, revealing in a new study that the arachnids regularly dine on frogs, fish, lizards and even small mammals.

In the Amazon rainforest, a team of researchers recorded spiders and other arthropods such as centipedes feasting on tadpoles, lizards, frogs, and, on one very memorable occasion, a tarantula the size of a dinner plate killing a young opossum and dragging it off to devour at leisure.

Upon reviewing footage of the rare occurrence, Robert Voss, a mammologist at the American Museum of Natural History confirmed that it appeared to be the first-ever documentation of "a large mygalomorph spider [tarantula] preying upon opossums", National Geographic reports.

"When they looked, they saw the tarantula moving away with the opossum, which was still kicking weakly", he said.

Their findings have been published in the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.

Talking about the scene was University of MI evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky, who said, "This is an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates".

Though such behaviours have been recorded before, the study provides more data about just how many vertebrates fall victim to small predators, particularly spiders. Many predators relied on paralyzing venom to trap their meal, while others used their large jaws to their advantage.

The team also collected the bodies of two snakes that succumbed to centipedes, including a venomous coral snake.

For small animals in the tropics, spiders and their arthropod cousins are responsible for "a surprising amount of death", scientists recently discovered.

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"In a single night survey, it's fairly common to see between three and five predator-prey interactions", lead study author Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan (UM), told Live Science in an email.

As the researchers themselves said, "this is the stuff of nightmares".

A tarantula in the genus Pamphobeteus preys on a mouse opossum in the genus Marmosops.

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", Michael Grundler said in the statement.

Considering this diversity and the sheer number of invertebrates in the Amazon, the potential for interactions between species is staggering.

Arachnologist Rick West said tarantulas typically prey on frogs, but added: "They are opportunistic feeders and they'll take whatever they can subdue".

"We knew we were witnessing something pretty special, but we weren't aware it was the first observation until after the fact".

Isn't the idea of frogs and tarantulas being BFFs just the most adorable thing?